Companies today provide marketers with a multitude of new resources to help them gain deeper insights, develop innovative solutions and simply improve their ability to do their jobs. Marketers come to rely on these assets to achieve success—both for their brand and in their careers—but despite the advances in data mining, technology, social media, crowd-sourcing, etc., their best resource may still be the one they have used since childhood. The ability to ask, answer and learn from the right questions. Unfortunately, this is quickly becoming a lost resource in pharma.

Predictably, my marketing students ask the usual questions: When did you start in business? At what level did you begin? How long did it take to become successful? What job did you enjoy most? And, not surprisingly: Can you help me find a job in pharma?!

Product management was the most personally rewarding position I ever held—despite having worked at higher levels in big pharma, in the agency world and in the service side of the business.

Anyone who has had the opportunity to directly manage a brand understands that the role quickly challenges everything they understand about themselves. This includes their knowledge of—and approach to—marketing, their handling of ethical considerations, their ability to develop productive plans and support programs, their response to both problems and opportunities, and the challenge of balancing their work and personal lives.

The Importance of Asking Questions

Given how little I actually knew about the intricacies of product management before I became involved in that phase of the business, I asked myself how it was possible that I ran this gauntlet and actually enjoyed the bumps and bruises experienced along the way. I quickly realized it was the result of the questions I and my fellow product management team members encountered on a daily basis.

In addition to actual day-to-day work, product management teams are further challenged by the probing questions asked by their managers in response to the marketing plans, support programs and related decisions submitted for approval. These questions are what drive product managers to new heights that ensure brand and personal success while helping achieve corporate objectives.

Product managers who successfully master the process learn the answers to these questions and understand why they are important. That knowledge helps those that move to the next level, where they ask similar experienced-based questions of the product management teams for which they become responsible. This learning process contributes to the growth of the next generation of marketers, and continues the tradition of success.

Pharma Under Siege

This valuable process currently appears to be under siege by what is happening organizationally within pharma companies. While downsizing may save the cost of the employees who have departed, it can also cause the loss of the corporate assets that reside in the hearts and minds of those who have left; and those assets will no longer be available to those who remain. No amount of outsourcing—or quickly elevating the next level of inexperienced people—can compensate.

Marketing successes have always been engendered by a succession of young, energetic, committed, intelligent employees, each of whom ran his/her own gauntlet that helped to ensure their growth, success and commitment to the organization. Are we risking the creation of a generation of managers too inexperienced to know either the right questions to ask of product managers—or their correct answers?

Product managers are already challenged by the impact of the “patent cliff”; limited access to healthcare professionals (HCPs); unrealistic commitments to unproven media options; the distractions caused by continuing rumors of mergers, acquisitions and sell-offs; unrelenting focus on the bottom line; limited budgets; and the growing complexity of the healthcare system—to mention just a few concerns.

To compete effectively in today’s pharmaceutical business, organizations must maintain a succession system that will produce managers capable of asking the questions that support the development of product managers.

HCPs are still trained that way. Product managers should be afforded the same opportunity.

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